Whenever it is suggested that the Canadiens should finally give up some young assets/draft picks for a player that will help the team now, there are always fans who are against such a scenario.
The argument you hear more than any other is that the Canadiens will not be a contender for several more seasons because they do not have a bonafide first-line center….yet.
I get that argument – my esteemed colleague Brian Wilde often points out that if you “Win the middle, you win the game.” I do not necessarily agree that it is the reason why you do not make such a deal, however.
The last two times the Canadiens won the division, the club featured David Desharnais in a first-line center role, so I do not believe that if they pick up a legitimate top-pairing left defenceman, that they do not have enough center strength to make the playoffs, especially with the advancement of Nick Suzuki as a two-way center.
It does not guarantee playoff series victories, but nothing does that. Tampa and Washington, with their celebrated centers, were not supposed to lose in the first round of last year’s playoffs. Get in the playoffs, and as we have seen, anything can happen. Tampa was swept by a Columbus squad with 20-year-old, 61-point Pierre-Luc Dubois as its top center.
Does it mean they can win four playoff rounds? Well, that is improbable…but you could say that for 30 teams every year. Every season, clubs have less than a four percent chance of winning four rounds.
Playoff experience is invaluable to a team’s core players, especially the younger ones. Montreal’s top nine forwards (including Drouin), have combined for 113 playoff games in their careers. By comparison, Patrice Bergeron alone has played 136 playoff games.
Two straight years of missing the playoffs is enough – it is time for the Canadiens to get back in the postseason – if they miss once again that will have been three home playoff games in the past five springs, and no playoff series wins. Such a drought has never happened in the club’s long and storied history…ever.
Picking up a first-line left defender means that others drop down at least one pairing, and that is exactly what this club needs to happen. Mete and Chiarot are not 20-minute defencemen on a contender, and should not be put in such a position.
Let’s suppose that the Kings, as expected, fall out of the playoff race and GM Rob Blake decides that it is finally time for a full-blown rebuild. Alec Martinez would be an obvious target for the Canadiens. He can play on both the power play and penalty kill, eat up major minutes, and would be an ideal partner for either Weber or Petry.
Montreal was a NHL powerhouse in the late 70s in large part because of the Big Three on the blueline – Robinson, Savard and Lapointe. Obviously, Weber, Petry and Martinez would not be in the same league, but in today’s parity-driven NHL, that threesome would have the potential to be one of the league’s best trios.
Obtaining a top-pairing left defenceman would also mean that the club could look at moving another defence asset in the future to reclaim some of the young assets they would be giving up to obtain a Martinez. Perhaps one of their left defence prospects, or even Mete, would be included in the deal. I would think if you offered up Mete and two second-round picks for Martinez that the Kings would at the very least consider making such a deal if they fall out of the playoff picture.
It is all about the timing. In early December, teams are reluctant to part with cornerstone players because no one is completely out of playoff contention. Last year, the Blues were in last place in January and ended up winning the Cup. In a league with GM’s known for being copycats, it is unlikely that organizations are going to throw in the towel in early December when there is so much parity in the league. One winning streak can get a wallowing team back in the playoff race in a two-week span.
Bergevin is in a difficult spot. If he waits too long they may miss the playoffs again. But…it takes two to tango – you can be looking for a top defender all you want; you still need another team to part with him.
The only way you are going to pry away a 20-minute-per-night defender well before the trade deadline is to make an offer a team finds hard to refuse. It would have to be a deal that makes the large majority of fans say “No way I would give up that much.”
Montreal won’t get the player they need by offering Hudon, Peca and a third-round pick…it will have to involve assets that fans do not want to see going, be it now or at the trade deadline. Perhaps even a Poehling or Brook would be offered, players that could help a rebuilding team sooner rather than later.
Would they offer a first-round pick? Unlikely if the other team insists on it being a first in 2020, as the Canadiens are not going to host the draft without a top-31 pick. The only way they part with a first for a defender is if they make another deal to get a 2020 first rounder from another team, so the deal for a defenceman would almost have to be one of two major deals, and most likely at the trade deadline.
Ultimately; the longer Montreal remains in major playoff contention, the longer Bergevin can wait to make a deal. So he is hoping they can stay in the race for at least another month as you never want to make a deal from a position of weakness; just ask Rejean Houle.
It is a thin tightrope Bergevin is trying to walk. My guess is that he hopes to wait another month as some of his prime defence assets are showcased at the World Juniors.
Three are strong bets to be prominent players in the upcoming World Junior Championship – Jordan Harris (in all likelihood) for the US, Mattias Norlinder for the Swedes and Alex Romanov for Russia.
Simple math tells us that all three won’t be top-two pairing defencemen on the Habs, so it is quite possible that one can be offered in a deal for that elusive top-pairing blueliner. The optimum time to be doing that may well be soon after, or during, the WJC when all of the hockey world, and most importantly, NHL GMs, are focused on the event.
I would wait until January to make serious offers for a left defenceman. If the Canadiens go on another long losing streak between now and then, they aren’t making the playoffs anyway, and you don’t make the deal unless the price is surprisingly low.
If they ARE in playoff contention, make a deal while those young defence prospects are in the limelight, and revisit where the team is at close to the trade deadline. If the club is soaring and in a strong playoff position at that time, then you can explore the possibility of adding another center at the deadline to make the team a serious contender…on paper at least.
Bergevin has undoubtedly been shopping for a high-end left defenceman for the past couple of seasons, perhaps a bit more vociferously now than at any other time. He knows it is all about the timing, but he may also be wondering if his fourth playoff miss in the past five seasons could cost him his job.
This may be the time where he “loses” a deal – pays the extra price in future assets that will be necessary to pry a 20-minute defenceman from an underachieving team. He has been reticent to do that in the past; this season, he may have little other choice.
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